Merry bubble-gum contest

They made bubble gum better and today business is bubbling at an annual rate of $450 million and still growing. Less than 10 years ago, bubble gum was a small portion of the gum industry, bringing in only $50 million annually. Then, in 1976, Life Savers Inc. introduced Bubble Yum, a soft-chew bubble gum that revolutionized the business.

Now, three major companies are vying for a piece of the bubble -- and bubble gum now accounts for one-third of all gum sales.

In contrast to the old-fashioned brittle type, soft-chew bubble gum is pliable even before being chewed. Each wrapped square is the equivalent of two pieces of traditional bubble gum.

Warner-Lambert Company caught on within a year after Bubble Yum and introduced a similar gum, Bubblicious.

Never a heavy in bubble gum, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company also realized the swelling potential of the bubble market. Three years after Bubble Yum, the company came out with Hubba Bubba, adding the claim that it wouldn't stick to the face. With its late break into the market, Wrigley's spent more than $6 million advertising Hubba Bubba last year.

"We sold so much we couldn't make deliveries," says Niels Hoegh-Guldberg, Wrigley's marketing manager.

Keeping the business generated by advertising is tough, companies say.

"The trial market is good in this business, but the repeat business is bad," William Mack Morris, president of Life Savers, says.

Life Savers had the No. 1 and 2 positions for sales in 1979 -- Bubble Yum, with 27 percent, and Carefree Bubble Gum, a nonsugar, stick gum, with 11.5 percent of the market; Bubble Yum sales were over $100 million. Bubblicious had 9 percent of the market and Hubba Bubba, 3 percent. But Hubba Bubba's latest 1980 reports show it now has a bigger share of the wad.

In the early '70s, Life Savers researched the market and heard a lot of complaints.

"Bubble gum didn't make big enough bubbles," Mr. Morris says. "The kids also said bubble gum was tough and the flavor didn't last. So we fixed the problems."

Bubble Yum was the result. The company found that not only did the kids like it, young adults liked it as well.

Market research by other companies verifies that "closet chewers," those who chew privately, like soft-chew bubble gum. Preteens and early teens are the heaviest users.

There is one criticism. The nationally marketed brands of soft-chew gum aren't wrapped in comics and don't come with baseball cards.

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